Kim Jaekyung was a very obstinate human being to begin with. Taehyung knew this for a fact.
The man was hard as flint, stubborn as an ox, and cold to the very cartilage of his bones. His words were brisk and sharp, like ice. He wasn’t cruel, no, but he wasn’t necessarily kind either. At a very young age, Taehyung learned to expect as much from his father. He learned when and when not to speak, when and when not to leave the home and more importantly, when his presence mattered and when it did not.
The Sun peeked its light through Taehyung’s open window, tickling his face and beckoning him to come out and play. Even at 20 years of age, Taehyung was just a mere boy, a child at heart. The Sun brought it out in him, his childlike giddiness, his happiness. It was something that he couldn’t fight, despite his father’s dismay. Taehyung practically pounced from the sheets of his bed, a tiger with chocolate waves of hair and beautiful brown orbs.
He knew what day it was but for now, he would cherish the toddler of a Sun, allowing its beams to stroke his long hair and honey kissed skin, nurturing his body with even more kisses.
“I’m going out to feed the chickens Eomma.” He says before sliding on a white headband and strapping on his wooden sandals.
“You do know what day it is, yes?” She asks. Taehyung sighs with a grunt as he pulls hair back, tying it with an ivory band and draping the hair over his shoulder.
“Yes, I do.”
“Come back as soon as you can so we can get you ready.” She says, her voice elated and bubbled with joy. Taehyung smiles at her, his mother’s glee something that he wishes would stay forever.
“Of course Eomma.” He says before bursting through the door frame, Yeontan already following behind him with that familiar pep in his paws. Taehyung coos at the pup as he makes his way to the stables.
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When Taehyung returns, his face is picked at and prodded. His hair is braided, enlaced with golden strands of thread and colorful beads.
He is to make the perfect husband, and the perfect husband does not have a single imperfection, that means every strand of hair should be in place. Every blemish is to be hidden. Every. Single. Thing.
Taehyung holds back an undignified yelp as a certain strand is yanked from the crevice of his scalp.
“Eomma is this really necessary? If she doesn’t love me enough like this then, is she even the one for me?”
His mother sighs. “Taehyungie, love is something that can be learned, it doesn’t have to be immediate. We just need you to be liked first, that is all.”
“Taehyung-ah, please , we are almost finished.” His mother pleads as she Taehyung sighs as his aunt pats his head, signifying that the worst part is finally over.
“Ooh, one moment Taehyungie.” His mother says softly. She makes her way towards the back of the hanok. Within a few moments, she comes back with a small jewelry box covered in golden hangul and unauthentic gems. She opens the box to reveal a silver pendant, a charm of the Sun hanging from it. Taehyung can’t fight back a smile.
Ah, my good friend, is all he can think.
“I’ve been waiting for this day, the day that you would become the perfect suitor. Your father and I met through the system this way as well, and although it has its faults, I was able to find my true love. You can do the same.” She says, her soft charcoal eyes filling to the brim with tears. Guilt seeps into Taehyung’s veins like venom, his heart thudding in his chest like a warning, a sign.
Taehyung’s eyelashes flutter as he blinks at her, his lips curving solemnly. “Of course, Eomma.” He says barely above a whisper as his mother rests the pendant in the center of his chest. He lifts his hair, allowing her nimble fingers to connect the clips with a slight click. Taehyung can’t help but to flinch at the sound.
This was really happening.
As he makes his way to the heart of the village, he looks up, the Sun’s rays gleaming upon him with hope and assurance.
Do this for her, the golden star seems to say. He smiles back.
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Taehyung is going to die alone. There’s no doubt about it.
Behind each scrim, he could hear sounds of praise and haughty laughter, followed by silent grazes and touching. Bogum and Hyungsik seemed to have major success with their maidens.
Taehyung has no such luck.
Not only did he manage to spill tea everywhere, but apparently he is unfit to be a husband to any living being that breathes.
The sentiment hurt, not as much as it should but, it did hurt, and the maiden to which he was supposed to be spending his time with was nothing short of embarrassed.
His mother’s expression hurt worse than anything else.
The sight of her face drawn in sorrow, more like disappointment, made Taehyung feel disgusted with himself. He physically felt sick to his stomach.
Maybe he just wasn’t made to marry.
Maybe he wasn’t made to find his true love.
“Eomma… Eomma I’m—”
“Taehyung-ah, don’t, please.” His mother says with her hand held up, as if she was asking Taehyung to stay away from her.
All Taehyung can do is obey her wishes, since he was incapable of doing so before.
Taehyung unbraided his hair, allowing the gold to detangle from his locks, the beads popping as they hit the wooden planks of the floorboard. His heart drops to his stomach as he runs. He doesn’t have a destination in mind, but his feet carry and carry and carry his broken body until his knees sink to the floor, before him, the statues of the Kim ancestors
“I’m sorry… I know I should have… I don’t know.” Taehyung weeps. “She’s so… she’s so hurt and… it’s all my fault.”
His ancestors seem to mock him. He can almost hear their laughter, taunting him.
He’s a disgrace.
“I don’t really know what to ask for, or what I want rather but… I just want my family to be proud of me… Is that… enough? Is there a way for us to just be... happy?” He finishes lamely. His words ring true, he doesn’t know what he wants, or even what he needs.
He just hopes that the spirits hear his plea.
Taehyung doesn’t know how long he stays there for. It feels like minutes even though it’s probably closer to an hour or two. He reads over the scriptured hangul ingrained into the stones of the different Kim ancestors. One is a dragon, another a snake.
His favorite spirit is the tiger spirit.
Sleep doesn’t come easy that night, and to make matters worse, his father is in an even more of a bad mood than usual.
He must have heard wind of Taehyung’s shortcomings.
Taehyung doesn’t bother to speak during breakfast. It’s a sharp rapt on the door that brings him out of his reverie. His father is quick to stand and answer it.
There at the door is a soldier with a pinched expression. His brows are knitted tight and his frame is square, sturdy.
Taehyung fears for the worst.
He doesn’t listen as they speak but, he can tell something is wrong, gravely wrong.
Within hours families are guided out of their hanoks and to the gates. Babies, children, parents, everyone. Horses weave in and out of the crowds, monitoring the people and forcing them to stay in line. It’s a treacherous sight to behold and it makes Taehyung’s heart batter wildly, rattling his rib cage. Once the people can travel no farther, a pretty man with a long face and heart shaped lips sits tall on his white horse, a barricade of black and brown horses behind him. He clears his throat, offering the best smile that he can give. It’s a nice smile mind you, just plenty forced and grave in nature.
“Hello, I am Jung Hoseok, advisor to the General. I bring you a proclamation from the Golden City. Seoul... is under attack."
The crowd sharply inhales as a collective. Taehyung's mouth is devoid of moisture, his throat burning and his chest uncomfortably tight.
"By order of General Hongi, one man from every family must serve in the Imperial Army." Hoseok says as he opens the scroll that he has in hand. Taehyung holds his breath as each family is called. It feels like forever before Taehyung's heart jumps into his throat.
"The Kim family."
Taehyung's father juts out his chin, walking with pride to the man on the horse. Taehyung feels nauseous, his blood running hot in his veins. His body moves faster than his brain, his feet breaking the cobblestone. He takes ahold of his father's wrist, his grip tight.
"You can't go back. You barely made it back last time you can't just—”
The young man flinches under his father's intense glare. He snatches his hand away from Taehyung's grip as he takes his conscription notice. Taehyung shrinks away from all of the prying eyes as he tears up.
"I, Kim Jaekyung, am willing to die for my country."
Everyone is dismissed back into their homes. Taehyung's mother places a hand on the small of his back, guiding him back into their hanok. Taehyung doesn't fight it.
The guardians must not have heard his prayers.
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"You can't go."
"Taehyung I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"You can't go."
"Taehyung I have fought before, I can do it again."
"You almost died in the war. Appa I mean no disrespect but you are older now. What if something happens to you? They won't tell us anything until you're dead. Eomma tell him."
A slam on the table makes Taehyung jump in his seat. He is met with the fire burning in his father's eyes.
"I said that's enough. This is not your decision to make Taehyung. I am going to enlist and there is nothing that you can do or say that will change my mind."
Taehyung's chair screeches as he stands. A tear slips from his eye, the others threatening to fall and join the other streams draped across his cheeks.
"Tell them to keep your sword when they come to tell us of your death. I won't want it." Taehyung snaps before he excuses himself from the table.
His father's sword is kept on an iron rack in the upstairs of the hanok. Taehyung passes by it everyday, he's just never thought much of it.
He traces his fingers over the blade, across the fuller is a single word.
Wings Taehyung reads. He wonders what exactly it's supposed to mean. It's unfortunate that he can't ask his father.
Seeing his father come home at the age of five, bloodied and bruised with the sword strapped to his hip, was something that Taehyung would never forget.
It's a lot heavier than he would have imagined. Feeling the weight of it in his bare hands puts so many more things into perspective. The brunt of its handle wrapped beneath his fingertips, the sharp edge of the blade that could easily break the surface of his sun-kissed skin. It's weight has become too much of a burden for his father to carry. The man whom has trouble walking up the steps, the same man who can't stay in the Sun for too long, or else he'll be short of breath from the heat.
The very man who struggles with eating certain foods because his digestive system is weak, or who still uses his cane on certain occasions when his knee hurts.
The very man who will not survive another year or more in the war.
Taehyung goes back to his ancestors. He asks them for forgiveness for the things that he is going to do. He then asks them to look after his family and protect them while he is away. He can't really remember a time where they had listened to him before. He just hopes that they do now.
Taehyung runs his fingers through his hair before grabbing his thick locks. He swipes his blade through them, his hair now falling a bit past his shoulders as the dead strands of chocolate fall to the floor.
The sword weighs a ton on his back but with some of the weight of his hair gone, he feels lighter, freer. Taehyung doesn't know why the conscription notice is much heavier than the two things combined. He doesn't really want to think about it.
Taehyung walks to the stables as quickly as he can. He doesn't have much time before his family realizes that he's gone. His feet are soft as they hit the firm dirt. Once he sees that familiar white muzzle, Taehyung skips forward with a small smile.
"Tata? Tata, my bun I need you." Taehyung whispers as he hands along the horse's neck. He giggles once the horse shakes himself awake. He pats the horse's face and opens the hatch of the gate. "Let's get you out of here, okay my love?" He says, taking the horse by the reigns and leading him away from the stables and into the crisp night air. He mounts his horse, the mammal picking up it's pace a bit due to Taehyung's unsteady hands. "Tata wait a moment." The horse halts. Taehyung cranes his neck to look at the stars.
Taehyung is no stranger to the Moon, but it is the Sun that is his friend, so as he looks back at his hanok one last time, he hopes that the Moon is as friendly as it is beautiful and that it guides him on his way.
And so, Taehyung snaps at the reigns, tears in his eyes and his heart cracked in two.
Please, please hear me this time.